Lib Dems set sights on record: Ashdown spurns idea of pacts with Labour

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Indy Politics
THE Liberal Democrats launched their campaign for the county council elections in May yesterday with the declared aim of returning a record number of councillors.

Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, said: 'In each of the last three years, the May local elections have seen a new record of Liberal Democrat councillors elected on polling day. I am confident that we will break that record once again this year.'

However, Mr Ashdown rejected any notion that the Liberal Democrats will do deals with the Labour Party to secure control, or the balance of power, in any county council elections. In Berkshire, two Labour candidates have withdrawn from the election, which will mean virtually a straight fight between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Mr Ashdown insisted that there had been no collusion. 'There have been no deals. There is no national agreement with the Labour Party or anyone else,' he said.

Sir Norman Fowler, the Conservative Party chairman, has depicted the Liberal Democrats as a stalking horse for Labour. He has said they are 'living in sin' with Labour, working together to keep control. Mr Ashdown said Sir Norman should be asked about Gloucestershire, St Albans, Chorley, Calderdale, Stockport and Leicestershire. 'In every case there is a Tory-Labour pact designed to keep the Liberal Democrats, as the largest party in most cases, out of control'.

Mr Ashdown was cautious about saying where his party would make the greatest impact. 'We aim to consolidate our position, we are not looking to make sweeping gains.'

They are hoping to retain the Isle of Wight against a strong Tory campaign and hope to do well in areas where they have the balance of power, such as Avon, Cheshire, Cumbria, Oxfordshire and Shropshire. They also hope to make gains in Leicestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.

Unemployment has risen faster in Tory-controlled counties, Labour claimed yesterday. Harriet Harman, shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said unemployment rose by 193 per cent in Conservative-controlled counties between April 1989 and February 1993, and by 37 per cent in counties where Labour has control.